Habit: How to Overcome Unhealthy Habits and How to Adopt Healthy Habits. Part Two: A Practical Guide



Habit is Overcome by Habit.


A Modern Dilemma: 
A Thought is Harmless 
Unless We Believe It

A client asked me an important question today: Why is it easy to have unhealthy habits and hard to have healthy habits?

We have developed a skewed view of health. The popular view is that health is an intimidating chore, purgatory, a self-denial of pleasure, deprivation. This belief that having healthy habits is harder than having unhealthy habits certainly makes choosing healthy habits an improbable task for which we feel that we do not have the motivation to start or the willpower to maintain. 


I question the popular attitudes about health here in North America. The prevalent and pervasive notions have many believing that health is a difficult burden, that it is easier to have unhealthy habits, and being disease-free is largely out of our control. This has led to a conflicted relationship with our health that is supported by the promotion of unhealthy temptations at every turn, by a popular culture of de-valuing health, a legacy of physical taboos, a tradition that has never embraced a foundation of basic health habits, a medical system focused on critical care and disease, and government and corporations taking advantage of your ignorance. Until science can create a pill to make you healthy, you are responsible for your health. HEALTH COACH, BEHIND THE SCENES 

What we are dealing with here is unique to our time and place. We have lost sight of the connection between our basic health habits and our health. We are living in the era of the quick fix. Perhaps one day when a pill is invented to make people healthy, or if there no longer exists bodies made of flesh and blood, HEALTH COACH will be a relic with a cult following. If you believe the thought that it is harder and less enjoyable to be healthy, then I agree: it will be for you. 

The simple truth is that we live in a physical body, beautifully designed, with systems in place to maintain health, and it is wise to support these natural functions with basic health habits. No pill, cure or therapy can replace healthy habits. To solve this puzzle of unhealthy versus healthy habits that we are struggling with will take a change in our thinking, a shift in our feelings, knowledge and understanding. 


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Myth # 3. It is easier to have unhealthy habits and harder to have healthy habits.



The physiological process for unhealthy and healthy habits is identical.  The same thing happens in our body whether it is a healthy or unhealthy habit (see The Neurobiology of Habit, Part One of this series). The process for developing healthy habits is exactly the same repetitive process that occurs when we develop an unhealthy habit and addictions. The perception of difficulty is misleading. 

Compare it to a road trip. The return home often seems to be shorter than the journey to your destination but it is exactly the same distance. The difference between the two is that unhealthy habits harm the body and healthy habits do not. It is true that it is hard to overcome unhealthy habits due to the physiological dysfunction that occurs as a result of the harmful habit. The process of addiction to healthy habits is gentler but it does happen, it just doesn't cause damage to our brain. This is the fundamental reason that unhealthy habits have any control and healthy habits seem to have less. 

Unhealthy and addictive habits impair physical health, emotions, perception, judgement, and decision-making abilities.
 


A New Foundation 
of Realistic Thoughts and Practical Ideas

The real issues that contribute to our misconceptions of the difficulty in regard to health habits are a lack of knowledge; accurate information, understanding and practical and creative solutions. Also at issue are our values, sense of self-worth and learned helplessness, and our struggles with procrastination. 

I have noticed that we frequently do not prepare ourselves when it comes to changing our habits. For most new and unfamiliar undertakings, we would educate and prepare ourselves or we would seek help, if we lacked the know-how or did not feel capable to do it on our own. If you were to build a wall for the first time, you would probably consult a How-to manual or a DIY guide. 

If you skipped the instruction stage, you would not be surprised if you didn't have all the supplies or the tools needed, or if you made a mistake. If your wall falls down because of faulty methods, you would come to an understanding of your error and you would accept responsibility. You would start again and fix it or consult an expert. 

There often is little of this pragmatism and rationale where our health is concerned. And the result is that we often give up in despair, believing that we lack the ability. We look at other people with healthier habits and assume that it is easy for them. People with healthy habits do report that motivation and maintenance of healthy habits becomes less of an issue the longer they have these habits. What really separates people with unhealthy habits from those with healthy habits is a wall of inaccurate thoughts and erroneous ideas. What is also lacking is the know-how.





Myth #4. The Hereditary Factor: Your health is determined by an hereditary predisposition.

The conventional belief has been that genes controlled their own expression and were therefore the direct cause of certain diseases. This laid the groundwork for the idea that your genes predetermined your health. But genes are not self-regulating. Genes are blueprints, and are activated and controlled by their environment. This environmental information—which includes the physical health of your body, toxic exposures, as well as thoughts and emotions, and more—can create more than 30,000 different variations from each blueprint, allowing for an astounding amount of leeway in modifying the expression of each gene.


Let me illustrate by presenting Case Study A. A is 61 years old and he has an hereditary predisposition for high cholesterol, and heart attack in mid-life was the cause of death of the men in his family. A first came to see me 6 years ago with dangerously high cholesterol, poor basic health habits, chronic stress and pain, depression, and long-term digestive problems that he had been taking medication for, also long-term. He had been told that his high cholesterol was hereditary and that there was nothing that he could do to change this. We started by looking at his unhealthy habits and his basic health habits. Over the the course of the following 6 years he reduced and eliminated his unhealthy habits and gradually improved his basic health habits. A recently had a medical check up and his cholesterol levels are comparable to a healthy person half his age. He does not need to take medication for his digestion. He is no longer in a high risk category. Changes in his appearance are remarkable. His skin glows, eyes sparkle and he fairly bursts with happy vitality. He laughs a lot and the anxiety, anger and aggression that were dominant when I first met him, are gone.





The Procrastination Equation 
 
Motivation =   Expectancy x Value 
                    Impulsiveness x Delay
The three basic elements of motivation are expectancy, value and time. High expectancy forms the core of self-confidence and optimism: but if you start believing your goals aren't achievable, you stop effectively pursuing them. Procrastinators are typically less confident, especially about the tasks they are putting off. If you are procrastinating about getting healthier... odds are that you question your ability to follow through. The underlying cause of learned helplessness is reduced self-confidence...restraining beliefs can become internalized and be carried within us long after we leave the home or schoolyard where they started. Our learned self-perception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - by expecting to fail, we make failure a certainty.
We all tend to put off whatever we dislike. Consequently, that chore you are currently deferring is probably something you don't especially enjoy. The technical term for this measure of enjoyment is value and the less of it a task has for you, the harder it is for you to get started on it.
The biggest factor in determining what you pursue is not the associated rewards or the certainty of receiving them, but their timing. You value rewards that can be realized quickly far more highly than rewards that require you to wait; simply, you are impulsive... impulsiveness and the related personality traits of low conscientiousness, low self-control, and high distractibility are at the core of procrastination. 
The influence of time itself also contributes to the connection between impulsiveness and procrastination. We tend to see tomorrow's goals and concerns abstractly - that is, in broad and indistinct terms - but to see today's immediate goals and concerns concretely... the broad goal of exercising is less motivating than running for an hour. The greater the delay, the less your motivation. Impulsiveness multiplies the effects of delay. 
The Procrastination Equation, Piers Steel, PhD



Confessions of a Carb Addict

I do not recommend dieting. Health is a better goal than losing weight. But I once went on a diet and I learned a few valuable things as a result. It was the year that I was asked to be the Ambassador for The Irish Pavilion at Folklorama. I had been on an all-carb diet for some time and my weight was the heaviest it had ever been, not pregnant. Something had to be done, and quickly. I had to fit into a fifth century Celtic costume and there were not many large people in that period of history in Ireland. 
 
I had witnessed a client turn out rather impressively after going on the South Beach diet, so after some investigation, I decided that that would be the best choice for me. For the first 14 days, stage one of the diet, no carbohydrates of any kind are to be consumed. It was a radical change for me and one not without a great deal of initial anxiety. Would I be able to do it? And what if I failed? It was a new experience. Needless to say, an all-carb diet does not make you feel good and it does nothing good for the digestive system. I was not eating healthy, complex carbohydrates either. 
 
I followed the diet to the letter and stayed the course. And the first valuable thing that I learned was that I had become addicted to unhealthy carbs in all forms. The more that I ate of the salty, crunchy, sugary, refined, delectable and processed snacks, the less satisfied that I became. I just needed more all the time. When I stopped eating these unhealthy snacks, my digestive system immediately improved and my body actually had a happy feeling instead of the dissatisfied feeling that had become customary. My energy soared and the cravings were gone. I always describe that experience as having my body and brain re-booted. I also learned to make healthier choices that are still a part of my thinking. And I learned that I could take on an intimidating challenge and see it through to a successful conclusion. I proudly fit into that costume. 





Learning, Writing and Masterpiece Theatre: A Creative Approach to Habit-Forming Behaviour
To be responsible for the good progress of one's life is terrifying. It is the most insufferable form of loneliness, and the heaviest of responsibilities.  The Lost Girl, DH Lawrence 


Passion is a part of a healthy lifestyle and I advise that you plug into yours. Find it and develop it. Make it a habit and repeat often. It will sustain you when all the fretting and fussing about your responsibility for your health and life has you down. It is a creative, fun approach to habit.
 
My best and favorite highs have come from good health and my passions. My daughter knows not to call during Masterpiece Theatre: it is my soul-stirring escape; my boon and anchor at week's end. Another of my passions is Morocco. I'm writing a series of stories set in Morocco and it may just be possible that I know more about it and the Sahara than those who were born there. I took a print making class last winter and the theme was devoted to Morocco. I may not even get to go there, but it does not stop me from feeding my passion. There are so many ways to honour your passions. It is one of the best ways to feel alive. And would I do all this researching and writing about health if I were not passionate about it?





Ask yourself these questions:
  • What makes me happy?
  • What is it that excites me ?
  • What makes me feel closest to being ME?
  • What makes me want to stop procrastinating and DO instead?
  • What makes my soul feel a deep stirring?
  • What makes me feel like I have come alive?
  • What is it that touches my heart so deep that I feel inspired and energized?
  • What kind of activities do I like to indulge in?  Indoor, outdoor, artistic, sporty etc.
  • In the past when I indulged in one of these aforesaid activities how did I feel?
  • Would I trade a free day for this particular activity?
  • What would I attempt to do if I knew I would not fail? 


Touching the Void

This is the true story of the near fatal 1985 West face summit of the 20, 813 foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. Bad weather had slowed the ascent and they were out of food and fuel for their stove to melt ice and snow for drinking water when they began the descent of the North face. On the descent Simpson slipped down an ice face, landing awkwardly, smashing his tibia into his knee joint. With more bad weather closing in and daylight fading, they needed to descend quickly to the glacier 3000 feet below. Simon lowered Joe, with his broken leg, by tying 2 - 150 foot lengths of rope together but the knots would not fit through the belay rings and he inadvertently lowered Joe off a cliff. Simon could not see or hear Joe, his hands were frost-bitten and he was unable to tie knots properly and he accidentally dropped one of the cords.
 
After some time, with his position slipping, unable to pull Simpson up, and because they were tied together they would both be pulled to their deaths; Yates had little choice but to cut the rope. Simpson plummeted down the cliff into a crevasse. Exhausted and suffering from hypothermia, Yates dug himself a snow cave and waited out the night. Next morning when he descended to the crevasse, Simon realized what had happened and after calling for Joe and getting no reply; he assumed that Joe was dead and continued the descent alone.
 
But Joe was not dead. He had landed on an ice ledge and when he regained consciousness he realized that Yates presumed that he was dead and that he would have to save himself. He crawled onto a thin ice roof and back onto the glacier via a steep snow slope. Simpson spent the next three days, without food and water, crawling and hopping back the 5 miles to base camp, which he reached just hours before Yates was to pack up camp and leave.
 
The method that Joe Simpson describes in his story of survival has given me enduring inspiration and a very important and always successful strategy to cope with and to overcome all intimidating and mountainous challenges. He divided the journey out of the mountains into small manageable portions. He would set a goal a little way ahead and struggle to get himself to that point and bit by bit this is how he survived a seemingly hopeless situation. Joe Simpson continued his mountaineering adventures. 




Siula Grande




Let's rewrite this story of our relationship with health. You do not have to be an unwitting and powerless character; you can be the author of your own story. You are the storyteller, the projector of all stories and the world is the projected image of your thoughts. Knowledge of the basic health habits, and an understanding of how your body works, along with realistic strategies and attainable goals will create opportunities for a successful and happy relationship with your health. Let's plot a new course. 






Navigating The Roadblocks on The Path to Health
A Practical Guide

  • Make a goal. Plan it. Organize it. Do it.
  • Keeping a healthy resolution isn't a 100 metre dash. It's a step-by-step, life-long journey
  • Keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.
  • Know and understand yourself: your weaknesses and strengths, what will work for you and what you enjoy.
  • A Journal devoted to the subject of your health can be useful to make you aware of your unhealthy habits and to note your barriers, obstacles and triggers on your journey to health. It is a good reminder of your motivations and a record of your strategies for navigating the challenges and setbacks along the way. It is important to note what works and to keep track of your milestones and progress as you achieve your goals. A journal can be in blog form, scrapbook or a bulletin board.  
  • As you develop healthy habits, your struggles and capabilities will change.
  • Reduce your stress. When the prefrontal cortex responsible for decision making is overloaded by chronic stress and fatigue - your resolve and best intentions are likely to succumb to emotional desire for instant gratification.
  • Meditation calms the limbic system and the desire for immediate gratification and empowers the prefrontal cortex and our willpower. 
  • Make a detailed plan of goals and priorities. 
  • Make a detailed plan of strategies for coping with barriers, triggers and setbacks. 
  • Plan in advance resources, aids and support. 
  • A detailed plan should also include emotional rewards when milestones are reached. This will strongly link changing behaviour to positive emotions and will ease and enhance the process of habit becoming instinctive, automatic and natural. 
  • The more realistic, detailed and specific your goal is, the more likely you will succeed.
  • If a goal is repeated daily, it takes 45 days to develop a new neural pathway and to the start of a new habit.
  • If your goal is multi-faceted and repeated with less frequency, the longer it will take to become habit because it is easier to forget, there is less repetition and it is a larger commitment - easily engaging our natural avoidance strategies.
  • Installing a new health habit requires: valuing your health, motivation and inspiration, commitment, energy, and it takes time.
  • Start small - get the habit of starting handled, conditioning yourself to new habits, then build.
  • Start with exercise that is gentle like walking, yoga, dancing, swimming or Tai Chi. It will stimulate dopamine, the brain chemical of pleasure and aid in deep breathing, sweating, stress reduction, a more restful sleep , better food and hydration choices and  feelings of empowerment. These forms of exercise also affect the brain to help you to maintain your intentions and resolve and to calm emotional desire.
  • Link positive emotions with your new habits. 
  • Read HEALTH COACH basic health habit posts about: sleep, nutrition, physical activity, water, positive mental attitude, breathing and sweating - they will give you specific goals, inspiration and practical tips to help you achieve your goals.
  • Keep in mind the benefits and rewards of healthy habits. As your health improves you will discover that your resolve and capabilities will also increase. There are many gifts and delightful surprises waiting for you and they start the very moment that you start to make healthier choices.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and into your courage zone. Learning new physical skills, knowledge, behaviours and habits, new experiences, and self-development all contribute to healthy brain function which has a direct influence on habit-forming behavioural mechanisms.
  • Have a massage. Massage will create and strengthen the healthy relationship between you and your body and give you the experience of relaxation.
  • Remember: The best things happen when you're relaxed.


DO YOU KNOW?

Creative Visualization:  An Exercise in Positive Thinking
Just as your self-defeating/limiting thoughts and ideas about yourself and focusing on the negatives can often hold you back in life and become self-fulfilling; positive visualization can work to help you attain your goals of health, tranquility and self-fulfillment. 

Step 1. Everything starts with a thought. Our thoughts lead to our beliefs; our beliefs dictate our actions, and our actions have results. Take time alone in a quiet place. Relax and breathe. Breathing can be used to help you to focus your attention. Seeing yourself achieving your goal helps your brain believe that it is attainable.

Step 2. To develop your visualization skills it can help to look at a picture or photo and then close your eyes and visualize the details of the picture in your mind. 
Think of an achievement that you have already attained in your life. Take the time to notice the details and feelings of this achievement, now give the desired goal the same qualities.

Step 3. Focus on the goal that you want to achieve. See yourself achieving your goal from your own perspective; see yourself through your own eyes, this is the way that you see and experience everything normally. Focus on the desired result in your life - as if this goal is already a part of your life experience. Work on making the image of what you want real with the associated positive feelings, colours, sensory perceptions, details and movement.

The reason that visualization is so powerful is that as you create pictures in your mind of seeing yourself achieving your goal, you are generating thoughts and feelings of having it now. Visualization is simply powerful, focused thought in pictures, and it causes equally powerful feelings.

Exercise-induced cell regrowth critical to reduce stress and improve health
For many years, the medical community denied the possibility that adult brain cells could regrow. But researchers now know that neurogenesis, the process of brain cell regeneration, does occur, and it plays a very important role in mitigating stress and improving sexual and reproductive function -- but it all hinges on getting plenty of regular exercise.

Published in the journal Cell Transplantation the new study out of Hong Kong explains that the process of neurogenesis is spurred by exercise, which also tends to reduce stress and promote better sexual and overall health. After all, brain cells play an important role in the health of the entire body, and if exercise helps induce their regrowth, the healing potential is limitless.

Research has shown that exercise can improve mood and cognition and has also demonstrated that a deficit in adult neurogenesis may result in depressive disorders, according to the research findings of Dr. Kwok-Fai So from the University of Hong Kong. Our research is aimed at examining the relationship between exercise as a way of combating stress, and the possibility that exercise may promote neurogenesis, and that neurogenesis functions as the mechanism of benefit.

Stress has a severe negative effect on the hippocampus, also known as the neurogenic zone, of the brain. The more serious forms of stress, including depression and post-traumatic brain injury, can actually cause the hippocampus to shrink. But the team observed that exercise effectively helps to both improve the "plasticity" of the hippocampus and spur the growth of new neurons, which ultimately can reverse cell damage.

Likewise, the new neurons created as a result of exercise also benefit the subventricular zone (SVZ) zone of the brain that plays a key role in reproductive function and potentially even maternal behaviors.

These reviews show that the process of neurogenesis has far-reaching implications, including a beneficial exercise-induced response to stress and some degree of involvement with sexual behavior and reproduction, adds Prof. Shinn-Zong Lin from the China University Medical Hospital. The studies reinforce the importance of a naturally occurring process that, until recently, was believed to be impossible.








 HEALTH COACH Talks 
to 
Paul Barclay,
Seoul, South Korea 

Thank you for the complement of asking to interview me. I hope I've offered something worthwhile somewhere in what I've written below.
 
I'll send pictures a little later, and in the meantime you can read my answers and think about anything else that needs to be done.
pb
 
1. How long have you lived in South Korea? What took you there? What do you do there?
 
I've lived in South Korea for six years, and counting. I came here to be with my partner, Young Mi. We met in Toronto. She was unable to get a second student visa to come to Toronto (long story, but in short having more money would have helped). We married after I arrived. I teach English here, as the majority of ex-pats in Korea do. I began teaching at an after-school school (called a hagweon, in Korean) for middle school students, then got a job at Kookmin University, and after the four-year contract there ended, began teaching at Sungshin University last fall. Sungshin is a women's university, and there are many women's universities here.


2. Please describe the healthy aspects of your lifestyle there and how living in South Korea has influenced this.
 
I walk to work, and just walk a lot in general. I've normally tried to live close to where I work so that I can walk there and back. Aside from being good for a person's health, walking puts one in touch with one's surroundings; and in a city--Seoul is most certainly a city--lifestyles often make people less in touch with their surroundings. People in Korea are just as crazy about having cars as they are in Canada, and so unnecessarily from my point of view. Korea manufactures its own cars, and this is a source of pride in the country, which doesn't make it any easier to convince people that they don't really need cars. Population density in Seoul results in grocery stores, hospitals, and just about any ordinary thing one can imagine being close, so that just encourages me to walk more, however.
 
The diet here is a pretty good one; and the numerous hills and riverside areas are generally equipped with paths and exercise facilities which I've made use of. (I give more details about these things in the answer to the next question, so read on.) 



3. Do South Koreans have a healthy lifestyle? Please give details.
 
It's not easy to give a simple answer to this question. On the whole, the lifestyle here is not very healthy, but there are surely some ways that it is healthier than the North American lifestyle.
 
Koreans normally sit on the floor in their own homes. In our home, we have some chairs to sit on, and that's good for me, as I have some lower back problems, and can't sit on the floor for long periods of time every day. Most Koreans can. I know a lot of Westerners who are in their 20's (I'll be 50 this year) who can't sit on the floor long either, and the reason is generally the same, our backs. Young Mi's mother is 75 and she has no problem sitting on the floor as a regular habit, and as well she sleeps on the floor. It's normal for Koreans to sleep on the floor, and when they do they sleep on thin mats, not thick mattresses like futons. The fact that most Koreans can do this into their old age, and most Westerners can't, suggests that this style of living keeps them, in certain respects, in better shape than ours does. An interesting detail here is that heating comes through the floors, and this is very effective when one is sitting on the floor or sleeping on it on a thin mattress. 

 
The diet here is healthy in some ways. Most of the least healthy food here is food imported from or adapted from Western food. Koreans often eat soup and rice morning noon and night. In the past, meat was rare, but these days meat is common. Nevertheless, the typical Korean diet balances meat with a wide variety of vegetables. What are called "side dishes" are an important part of the cuisine. Kimchi is the most important of these. Kimchis are preserved vegetables. The main kimchi is preserved Chinese cabbage, but there are many other kimchis: cucumber kimchi, green onion kimchi, white radish kimchi, and many others. Soy bean paste, hot pepper paste, and garlic are important elements of the Korean diet. Sesame leaves, sesame oil, and ginseng (as well as many other roots) are common. Koreans often find other countries' cuisines too oily. I sometimes find Korean food too salty. On the whole, a typical Korean diet is healthier than a typical North American diet. A lot of Korean men drink too much, and so that is a common dietary problem.


I live in Seoul. Like most of Korea, there are a lot of hills and even small mountains around. They are like parks. Most of them have well-established walking paths, and exercise stations, along them. This encourages people to get outside, walk, and get some exercise. I am lucky to have an apartment located half-way up one of these hills. The trees on the hill are a blessing in a city like Seoul. I was born surrounded by trees, and continue to believe the world should be that way. (It's not the case, in Seoul as a whole, however, that there are many trees. A typical Canadian city viewed from a tall apartment balcony will seem to be mostly trees, but not Seoul.) The paths and exercise stations on the hill have influenced my daily routine in a positive way. I'm bookish, and have lived a too-sedentary life for a long time, not a good idea I clearly see now. I've long needed more of a balance between sitting and being active. The park on the hill has really helped me to do that. It's convenient to use, and I use it. The river sides are similarly developed to give people a chance to exercise and be active. 


What's not healthy here? The population density is high, and that means conveniences are everywhere. It appears that there is a doctor for anything that could possibly be wrong with me within walking distance, as well as a 24-hour comic book reading room.
However, there's a lack of space for young people to be active in as well; the parks on the hills and along the rivers are an exception in terms of well-developed public space. It's not easy to see this at first, or it wasn't for me. Most school-aged kids spend so much time going to after-school schools like the one I worked in when I got here that they don't have time to go to playgrounds or other places and be active. The playground nearest our apartment is normally empty. It's not because there aren't kids in the area, but because they're all busy studying ridiculous numbers of hours, and basically being sedentary. I'm sure it isn't good for them. Nevertheless, there's another problem: if all the kids and young people in the area went out to play and exercise at once, there wouldn't be any room for them to do so. Every open space would be packed like a subway car during rush hour, and that means it would be hard to move. I've come to believe the population density plays a major role in making school-aged children and young adults generally less active than they should be. Sometimes I find people here lazy when it comes to moving around; they won't walk up a couple of flights of stairs, but instead wait to cram themselves into elevators. I mean, young people do this, as well as older people. They're not saving time. To be fair, though, running up flights of stairs is one of my good habits, and I often found myself to be the only one who normally did this in Canada as well.
 
Fifty million people in a space the size of southern Manitoba means there is a lot of pressure on the environment. The largest wild mammal I've seen has been a rabbit, though I hear that there are some deer and wild pigs left as well. I don't imagine there are very many. It's an immense catastrophe. If Canadians lived here, it would be worse, since Canadians have had so much we have learned to destroy it more freely. Having said that, though, environmental practices here are not good, and take a back seat to business. I expect things to get worse in the near future as a consequence.



4. Do you go to any of the many bathhouses there for sweating, scrubbing and bodywork? Is this something that is commonly popular with South Koreans still?
 
No, I haven't, though I think that may be changing. 
Young Mi had a near-drowning experience as a teenager and, consequently, became shy of water. However, that has changed. I encouraged her to take swimming lessons that were offered (at a community club on top of our hill) in the area to get more healthy, she did, and has come to terms with water. We just took a trip to a spa on the East Sea, and that reminded me of living in Japan, which is full of great hot springs. Korea is not blessed with many natural hot springs (few of the mountains are volcanic in origin), but bath houses, steam rooms, and so on, are numerous, as you mentioned.


5. Is there any additional information that you would like to share?

It's not always easy to see life in Korea clearly for Westerners, who generally come here to make money by teaching English. The presence of English here is a manifestation of cultural imperialism, from a certain (not unreasonable) point of view. Koreans thirst for English and resist it at the same time. Westerners who work here come with many unrecognized assumptions borne of the ascendency of Western culture at this point in time. They are often frustrated to find they are not in control of situations because, of course, they (perhaps I should be saying we) are not on their own turf. These frustrations are often reasonable because the bureaucrats and business people are who are in control are not better than bureaucrats and business people anywhere and can often be bad indeed. All this makes for some difficult relations.
 
I've had the advantage of having a Korean family. One of my fondest memories is of one Chuseok (Thanksgiving, except more) when a sizable gathering of members of the extended family occurred in the family's home area, in a countryside area, where the family graves are (where important ceremonies are performed). We were in the house of an extended family member. The relative lack of furniture in a typical Korean home certainly frees up room for people, and we were all sitting around the walls of one room, which was completely empty of furniture, everyone from age 2 to 82 sitting on the floor sharing food and drink and talk. The simplicity and earthiness of Korean culture that you can find in behind the crazy modern surface is what is really worthwhile here. Later, we all slept on the floors of the rooms in this house, shoulder to shoulder. This was a special occasion. In a Korean home, anywhere that there's floor space could be your bed. Make your bed by the kitchen sink if you like, in Korea that's perfectly okay.

A mix of traditional and modern home design
Another note: Young Mi's oldest sister, who runs a farm with her husband, collects wild plants that grow on the hills (including the fiddleheads we know well in Canada), from the beds of streams, and from around the vegetable crops they plant where edible volunteers spring up in numbers. Whereas many in the West have recovered the knowledge of local wild plants, it appears this knowledge has never been lost here. 

Many thanks to Paul Barclay for allowing the readers of HEALTH COACH a view into the lifestyle of South Koreans in Seoul.